In April of 2004 a couple of hashers were bushwhacking in Forest Park and stumbled on a man and young girl camping in the park. They notified the police, thinking an older man and a young girl living in a remote and well- hidden camp looked suspicious. As it turned out, the man, Frank, was a Viet Nam war vet and decided that he would protect his daughter from the evils of drugs, alcohol and crime by getting away from society and living off the grid. They had been there for four years.
This compelling story has been made into a movie and a book has even been written. Both, however, are highly fictionalized though use the general theme of a father and daughter living for years off-the-grid.
The true whole story is here.
I’ve wondered for years just where their camp was located. I’ve hiked every trail and fire lane in the park and can say with certainty there are many places one could disappear and not be found for years – if ever.
I found the location of their camp in May, 2020 after researching the area and using the available information. Nothing remains of the shelter. A Forest Park clean-up crew must have dismantled it and taken it out years ago. However, one thing remains and that is the rope swing Frank made for his daughter those many years ago. The small excavation in the hillside is evident as is the level spot where the dirt from the excavation was placed. A small garden spot is also there with eroding but obvious terracing. A small pool in the streambed a few feet from the shelter site is there too.
On the way to their campsite on what may have once been their trail:
Here is Ruth’s rope swing:
The terraced garden site:
A place in the stream for keeping perishables cool:
Looking up the canyon:
The site of their shelter under an old cedar tree:
A rocky trail leads a circuitous route to the site but it’s now only a game trail – and discontinuous at that. The trail is accessed from St. Helens Rd. and in a spot where Frank and his daughter could have easily entered the woods without being noticed. There may be other places where a hidden entrance could once have been but now too overgrown to be still visible.
The trail, such as it is, is now overgrown in many places with vines, blackberries, nettles, and even poison oak in a few spots. I think there may be an easier way in as well but that’s for another time.
I hope Frank resolved his demons and that Ruth was able to have a good life. They are surely very resourceful people.